Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One Gaze

I’ve never understood the need so many have for violence. Not that I don’t have violent impulses. I do. Frequently.  Like everyone else I unleash wrath in my mind upon the day’s disturbances. I haven’t, nor will I, act on that, as imagining harm and inflicting it are highly different things. Even the thought of clenching my hand into a fist, launching it at speed at someone’s head, and feeling the dreadful impact of my flesh and bone to theirs—the true memory of pain as I know and feel it—knowing how many pain receptors are suddenly exploding to life inside the other person, disgusts me. The first fight I had as a child occurred as older relatives watched while, simultaneously, I wondered why they didn’t put a stop to it. Even at eight I knew fighting was primitive and I wanted no part of it. It was ludicrous. There I was, playing with my cousins, when the neighborhood jackass decided he wanted attention. I called the adults out and told them he was bothering us. They came on the porch and told me I had to deal with him. I was the kid who needed libraries and books and time to think; I needed sunlight to lie in under tables; I needed the world to make sense, and in order to make sense adults were to keep harm from others, especially children. That seemed so foundational as to be unshakeable.

So when I told the bully to go away and he didn’t, I was at a loss. I looked to the adults, and it took two seconds for the ugliest realization I’ve had to become clear: they wanted me to fight. “Deal with him” had nothing to do with appealing to his sense of reason or compassion. I was not to allow him the dignity of human consideration. I had to hit him. Hit him hard. While the family watched.

He threw the first punch. Didn’t connect. Eight year-olds push and punch with their eyes closed, even the bullies. After a few seconds of this I thought we were done. I certainly was. I dropped my defenses, turned away…and he punched me in the back, very hard, then ran away. I wanted very much to kill him for imposing his idiocy on my world.

I don’t remember the names of any of my friends from eight years old, but I remember his: Vincent. Violence solidifies things no one wants or needs.

State-level violence? That creates fossils. Bones, hearts and minds of stone that believe killing people going against their day is justified because of certain policy words: retaliation; defense; sovereignty. Policy is as foolish as a group of adults encouraging a child toward a pointless fight. I’m sure they thought they were toughening me up, just as those who send others to kill create excuses for behaving as though damnation is always for others.

I don’t know what I can possibly write that will change a single mind in the Israeli government. Benjamin Netanyahu has dug into the role of embattled righteousness, a hole which governing bodies tend to peer out of only at night, and only at what they want to see. We won’t pretend Israel hasn’t planned to hem Palestine into the tightest, most volatile circumstance they possibly can, because they have. Gaza, Israel, Palestine, Hamas – there are no accidents here, only short-sighted, entrenched hatreds. You cannot be an occupying force demanding and expecting quiescence even as further encroachments are made. You cannot create unyielding barriers and expect the ghetto to garden. Israel has created an untenable situation. We also won’t pretend that, being a superpower compared to Palestine, Israel has not and does not have the capability to end what might as well be known as the world’s Forever War. Israel has the resources to capitulate. Unfortunately for those in Gaza, its refusals to do so are specious. Because the world has become so cartoonish there are never enough self-reflexive moments after any act of terrorism. Even the word “terrorist” is a cartoon, all dread removed from the word, drowned out, instead, by patriotic fervor on the part of the wounded. When I was growing up we heard all about the PLO. This generation gets “Hamas.” Groups that see violence as a means. What would they do if, at some point, someone on both sides of Gaza decided to be the adults who saw no value in fighting, someone on both sides who stepped out of the industry of war—and make no mistake, no large country that has been at war for generations is doing so without a large profit component—and realized there is actually no reason their children need to found buried under tables, under rubble, during the bright light of day when television cameras are at their most active and anguish, pure and vibrant in high definition suffering, races across social media to fuel our days’ ire; right now Israel’s anger is pounding Palestine bloody. The blows are hard, fast, brutal. Netanyahu bathes in what he sees as righteous blood. Violence is never given life without it demanding life in return. The death of the body for one, the death of the spirit for the other.

We don’t need violence. We don’t need to kill to be heard. We don’t need to kill to live. It is my hope that a thousand voices will speak better than I have. It is my hope that nations will tell Israel “Enough!” and that Hamas will realize that death as its only option is an option for utter fools. When I was younger I wrote a poem for my neighborhood. From the title alone you can tell what type of neighborhood it was.

Genocide: A Primer

Picture drug houses
Youth no soul
Filthy violent blight

I would pack up my people
And leave them
To prey on themselves
Until only one left standing

I see him
Alone, in the middle of the street
No wind, no sound, but
Still birds waiting in the trees

Only one left standing
I would return to the old frame
And shoot him.

This is what hatred does, whether hatred with good reason or not. It kills from the inside out. A genocide of one. Pain isn’t drowned in the wine of violence. It’s exacerbated. My hope is that aid to Israel will cease, because they don’t need it. But, again, there’s profit in conflict, and the United States has a ton of bullets to sell. My hope, no matter what kind of temporary cease-fire is issued and promptly broken by Hamas, is that the Netanyahu government be properly condemned for atrocities committed out of frustration and anger. Small chance of that, I know. My own country still has its share of ex-presidents (and a current one) with more than enough blood on their hands and nary a sight of justice. My hope is that people who say, “But what about Hamas? What of their killings?” dig a little deeper beneath their emotions to help Israel create a solution rather than martyrs.  A country governed in theory by laws and integrity is different from a cadre of idiotic, angry, desperately illogical men playing the game of hate with a losing hand. Let’s be clear: There is no possible way Hamas can militarily defeat Israel. Hamas’ only endgame will be inciting Israel to obliterate Palestine’s bakers, accountants, students, teething children, construction workers, firefighters, laymen, and anyone else unfortunate enough to walk their days under skies of retribution. Neither side can have fought this long without having become addicted to the wine of violence.

These days people speak blithely of radical this and that. Is it impossible for us to imagine radical peace? Are we going to be so forever addicted to violence that mortar shells serve as our speech? An untenable situation. Very confusing to all of us who think lying under a table in the sun is a beautiful thing.


  1. Heartbreakingly beautiful. Thank you for this.

  2. We refuse to give up on life or dignity. Thank you.